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“[John] said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:23-27).

Sal Mattson appropriately died on Good Friday. His legacy is partly captured in the University of Tennessee campus newspaper:

Campus evangelist passes away | The Daily Beacon

If you have not watched (I know the video drags quite a bit but it really is worth watching)  and read the links above, what I say next won’t have near the impact that it should. At least not the impact it had on me.

My brother attended Sal’s funeral. He described it as a joy-filled celebration despite Sal living only 53 years and leaving behind a wife and 5 children. There was much rejoicing over Sal’s homegoing and His Savior. The stories told there magnified what we learn from the links above. He gave his life to preach the Gospel from a sidewalk on the rabidly secular campus of a state institution of higher education. What we might not know is how he was treated by those he ministered to. His eulogists’ shared how Sal was often reviled – cursed, mocked, and even spat on. But he never uttered a harsh word, instead, we are told, he looked lovingly at his nemeses and kept pleading that they hear and believe.

One such account symbolized his self-denying, cross-bearing pursuit of rejecting everything that might hinder knowing and following his Savior. I paraphrase:

“One day a group of students was particularly cruel to Sal, saying and doing terrible things. Profanity laced names were thrown his way and objects were hurled in his direction. One of the group was convicted enough about this injustice that he returned to apologize for the group. And he did. Sal’s response? ‘Thanks, but it’s OK. Let’s talk about your salvation.’ The young man soon professed Christ and returned often to visit Sal as he continued to stand and preach to an unwlecoming audience. The boy sometimes stood by his side in an attempt to deflect the insults and harassment.”

Sal was so committed to evangelism that the weekend before his transition, weighing only about 70 pounds and moving in and out of consciousness, he telephoned his father-in-law to share the Good News. I’m sure that the man’s profession of faith was a very powerful and meaningful going away present for the dying evangelist. Think about it – the last task Sal Mattson accomplished was to share the Gospel and hear a loved family member say “yes” to Jesus.

And when was the last time we told someone about our Savior? Would that be the most important thing on our mind as we were wasting away with cancer and our death imminent?

I wish I were more like Sal Mattson than I am. Really, I desire to be more like Jesus – for He truly is the ultimate example for Sal, for me, and for you. So often we sit in our comfortable pews, we serve on our committees, we attend our Bible studies and “Christian concerts,” we blog, we give back a portion of God’s provision, we pray, we read our Bible…we do most of “the right things.” But do we give ourselves? All of ourselves…like Sal did. To Jesus and others, that is. More importantly and clearly, do we give like Jesus did? 

So I think it only fitting we conclude this tribute to Sal and his Savior with Christ’s own words. I think they are quite appropriate:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Please know we can only live like Sal did, and like Jesus wants us to, when empowered by Him and His Word and not through self-effort alone. We must be compelled by loving Christ because we know He first loved us, and how much that cost. So, in the end, it is not Sal or us who gets the glory…it’s the Savior. And I’m convinced Sal would have it no other way.

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For more of my commentary on the Reason Rally see – The Reason Rally: Atheists Out of the Closet

Now read this: Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious, Christian News

My response to Richard Dawkins? Bring it on! I want to be blessed and joyful! And Jesus said I will be if I’m persecuted for righteousness’ sake and on His account:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

With this in mind, I’d like to share a chapter from my yet to be edited, yet to be published devotional commentary on Colossians.

Joyful Suffering With and For Jesus

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24). 

Max Lucado says, “Please understand, [God’s] goal is not to make you happy, His goal is to make you His. His goal is not to get you what you want; it is to get you what you need…Earthly discomfort is a glad swap for Heavenly peace.”[i]

Joyful suffering, if you understand the message of the Gospel, is not an oxymoron – a paradox, maybe, but not a contradiction. Here is a sample of some passages that assert, despite our natural aversion to it, suffering and persecution is an inherent and beautiful part of our faithful following of Jesus: 

  • His followers rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). 
  • Suffering providentially compels us to be dependant upon God and not ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). 
  • Spiritual maturity and character are developed through suffering (Romans 5:3-4). 
  • Suffering for Christ reminds us and others of the Treasure to come (Hebrews 11:25-26). 
  • We will be uniquely blessed if we are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10-12). 
  • “The Spirit of glory and of God” rests on those who suffer for Him (1 Peter 4:12-16). 
  • Those fully surrendered to Christ view suffering for His name as a divine gift (Philippians 1:29). 

But this suffering and persecution is not fatalistic, purposeless, or hopeless. It has a mysterious yet divine purpose in us and for a lost world: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death,to the other a fragrance from life to life.Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

So we see two potential reasons that we are called to suffer for Christ; the presentation of the Gospel and our identification with Jesus.

First we see in Colossians 1:24 that the spread of the Gospel is facilitated by the suffering of Christ’s servants. When commenting on this verse John Piper explains, “Paul suffers, and he says that in his sufferings he fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? What does that mean? Here’s my answer in summary: What’s missing is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others. Paul sees his own suffering as the visible reenactment of the sufferings of Christ so that they will see Christ’s love for them.”[ii]

Secondly, suffering for Jesus identifies us with Him (see Acts 9:15-16). When we suffer for Him we are, due to the mystery of our spiritual union with Him, actually, in sense, suffering with Him. When Jesus accosted Saul on the road to Damascus He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-8). So we see that Paul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of Jesus. So everything that is done to the body of Christ (us) is also done to Jesus. Paul later explained this as “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). 

But Jesus had already told us this would be so: “You will be hated for my name’s sake,” he said (Mark 13:13). And especially in John 15:18-21: 

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” 

The joy we find in suffering for and with Jesus is that we are honored to image forth His beauty and the glorious Gospel of our Lord.  In our union with Him we magnify Him by demonstrating His suffering. For it is through His cross of suffering that He has saved our souls. And what a privilege it is to point others to Him, through our temporary afflictions for His name, knowing what eternal and indescribable glories await us in Jesus: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (1 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Apply It:

Meditate on Isaiah 53 and contemplate Jesus as the “suffering servant.” Spend time considering how much He suffered for you. Thank God for the infinitely valuable sacrifice of His only son, our perfect substitute. Seek the Lord’s guidance on how that translates to following Him. Ask yourself the penetrating question: Am I willing to suffer with and for the One who suffered for me so that I might live eternally with Him?  Ask God to give you the courage to do so with joy, if given that privilege.


[i] Lucado, Max. Colossians and Philemon (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 6.

[ii] Piper, John, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 268.


*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Nine – Great Reward for the Persecuted

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

The Prince of Peace follows His counsel on peacemaking with both an acceptance of persecution and the incredible idea that believers should “rejoice and be glad” when faced with it. In Matthew 10, Christ offers clues regarding suffering’s significance: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. … A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:22, 24-25). Persecution, then, should surface in the lives of those who follow the Lord. It highlights authenticity. The world took exception to Jesus; as we seek to model Him in our attitudes and behaviors, we should expect similar treatment.

Jesus Christ suffered and died to erase the sins of all who would acknowledge their unrighteousness and embrace Him as the only way out. In light of Christ’s extreme sacrifice, I believe it makes perfect sense that His followers sometimes face a measure of rejection and ridicule. Martin Luther considered persecution and suffering marks of the true church: if Christ’s church displays God’s radical love and constantly points out the truths behind heaven and hell, “someone will surely take offense.”[i] Dietrich Bonheoffer, who coined the phrase “cheap grace” and was cruelly martyred by the Nazis in 1945, said, “Suffering is the badge of true discipleship.”[ii] I couldn’t agree more.

Consider Kim’s story. A competent, loyal, and productive worker, Kim avoided off-color conversations and office gossip, preferring to mind her business and
do her job. She consistently rebuffed invitations to join her co-workers for happy hour, choosing instead to minster at a nursing home and the local rescue
mission. Though she was always pleasant to those at the office, they soon left her out of all invites, replacing their offers with pranks and labels like “prude”
and “Jesus freak.” Over time hurtful notes mysteriously appeared on Kim’s desk, but she persevered in following her convictions and even added additional
service opportunities to fill her evenings and weekends. As the ridicule intensified, Kim looked to Jesus for strength and comfort.

Following the narrow way of Christ leads to life, but it forces a person to swim against the broad tide of evil that leads to eternal destruction. Though Christ’s followers are taught to pursue a lifestyle of harmony with others, they will sometimes suffer for their beliefs. Jesus said to expect the same type of rejection and persecution that He endured (see John 15:20). He understood that as we seek after Him and His righteousness, a barrier rises between those who enjoy freedom and acceptance in Christ and those who don’t. For some, the very idea of following Jesus and worse—letting one’s faith dictate decisions—is distasteful. It may even engender opposition and hatred. Christ’s followers live through a value system opposed to the world’s: the two approaches to life will inevitably clash.

When faced with faith-related conflict, we naturally tend to react defensively—maybe even with a superior attitude or harsh words. We do well in such instances to instead choose humility and a posture of forgiveness. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus captures the contrarian essence of kingdom living: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He further emphasizes this idea in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat
you.” When Christ’s disciples follow this counsel, they show a marked respect for the life-purpose assigned to every believer: hold out the gospel and live
to please the Lord. As we pray for enemies, and those who mistreat us due to our pursuit of Christ, we bear the marks of His royal children. Encountering
adversaries to our faith proves a blessing.

A life of persecution hardly represents the type of existence the flesh yearns for or this world encourages, but Jesus says to rejoice and be glad when we encounter travail. When reviled because of Him or for His sake, we serve as reminders that God’s people have always faced persecution. The faith greats of
old, prophets like Isaiah, Samuel, and Micah laid out incredible testimonies for Christ and showed themselves God’s most committed warriors as they shared His plans with the world. Remembering this, the apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41)!  Righteous suffering allows believers to exemplify Jesus, the Suffering Servant—a man acquainted with grief and sorrow (see Isaiah 53). As we do, we become more like Christ. When we lay down our pride, our comfort, and our pleasures, we get a taste of what He gave up in order to pave our way home.

Apply It.

Starvation and physical mistreatment do not always define persecution. Read James 1:2-4. Any time you feel belittled or left out due to following the convictions of your faith in Christ, spiritual maturity can ensue. Can you recall being mistreated due to your commitment to following Jesus? If so, rejoice! Trials indicate your obedience and make you more useful to Jesus. Ask God to strengthen your faith when persecution comes your way.


[i]
Luther, Martin The Sermon on the Mount  ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Concordia, 1956), 102.

[ii]
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship  (SCM, 1959), 80-81.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” ( Hebrews 10:32-35).

Deliberately reread this passage. Absorb its every fact and inference. What we have just read, and hopefully digested, is radical and its implications are just as radical for the true contemporary follower of Jesus. Does it make you feel a little uneasy? Actually, I pray that it makes us all feel a little queasy.  After all, don’t we all need something to rattle our spiritual cage and thrust us from the routine of what we often call “being a Christian” in America?

Does the title to this blog make you uncomfortable? I hope it does – that is the intention. It makes me feel uneasy, too. Yet, I unequivocally believe that American Christians need to be just that! This passage describes a faith so radical and sacrificial that it stands diametrically opposed to what most Western professors of Christ consider the norm in following Jesus. The American dream for modern confessional Christians doesn’t look vastly different from a self-serving, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and comfort-seeking pagan world. When taken to heart this description of surrender should jolt us out of our lethargy and complacency. This is what it meant to follow Jesus in the early church. And I believe it means the same thing today.

Although we will probably not hear this passage preached from many pulpits (and I dare say not be broached by typical televangelists) it captures the essence of the radical nature of Christ-projecting sacrificial living. What the writer espouses is that those who have received the light of the truth of Jesus are transformed in such a startling way that they are faithful (“stand their ground”) in the battle that ensues while following Jesus. This war includes insult, persecution, and standing with those who are. This battle means that we sympathize with the imprisoned. It may also mean the joyful confiscation of our earthly possessions. Does the American Christian culture get that?  Do you and I get that? The apostles certainly did when we consider that Luke stated, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Why such extreme devotion to the name, kingdom, and cause of their great Savior? Because they saw they saw themselves merely as warrior pilgrims whose true home was in the heavenly realm. I rarely read (or like) bumper stickers but one recently caught my eye. “I AM AN ALIEN” it said (which casued me to peer suspiciously at the driver). But in smaller letters it included, “This world is not my home”. Such an attitude is why Paul rejoices that his life was spent for the cause of Christ – “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Philippians 2:17). Again we see that sacrifice for Christ engenders joy.

Granted, American Christians do not typically face the persecution our international brethren often face. But, even though our culture doesn’t yet have such a hostile environment, I’m accosted by the question: when did I ever stand so strongly for the truth and my Lord that I exposed myself to suffering, ridicule, and loss? Or am I just busy being all cozy in my own comfortable church “womb” and tied to the umbilical cord of this world’s stuff – reputation and possessions. Would I be willing, when the situation presents itself, to stand as courageously as those described by the inspired writer of Hebrews? In an even simpler vein, am I really willing, with little chance for truly harsh repercussions (much less taking delight in the plundering of my property), to share my faith with those I know are not believers?

But this passage also encourages us with a promise for those who live a radically sacrificial life that images forth the model of Jesus. It is a guaranteed and greater reward than this world (and its stuff) can ever furnish – Jesus Himself and our ultimate home with Him. The great London preacher of the 19th century poignantly articulated it this way:

“The Christian will be sure to make enemies. It will be one of his objects to make none; but if to do the right, and to believe the true, should cause him to lose every earthly friend, he will count it but a small loss, since his great Friend in heaven will be yet more friendly, and reveal himself to him more graciously than ever” and “You must bear the cross, or you shall never wear the crown; you must wade through the mire, or you shall never walk the golden pavement. Cheer up, then, poor Christian!” – C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening.


****This is an excerpt form “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him” published in 2008.

Some folks use the existence of suffering to rationalize their disbelief in God. I, however, consider the existence of suffering to be one of the primary reasons that I do believe in Him. Why? Well, suffering is a fundamental part of the gospel that we believe and the life we live in following Jesus.  Suffering exists and has a redemptive purpose in Christ.

James 1:2-4 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This verse presents an unpopular thought that is critical to developing a Christian perspective on suffering: we are called to relish suffering, not run from it. In doing so, we grow into spiritual maturity and wholeness. In a culture driven by comfort and ease this concept is counterintuitive. However, if God’s Word is true then it is suffering—not the lack of it—that develops perseverance, maturity, and wholeness, traits for which we should all long. Even though the thought of suffering runs against the grain of our sin-stained hearts, suffering is the vehicle that often accomplishes spiritual good.

Let’s saturate ourselves in the words of Peter, a man who claimed to follow Christ until the going got tough and he denied Him. Soon after Jesus lovingly reinstated Peter, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit gave the disciple a new understanding of suffering’s purpose. Listen to the positive and encouraging words that he uses concerning suffering. Give particular note to the words “greatly rejoice”:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade―kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith―of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire―may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Peter realized that suffering points us to our ultimate glorification.  It is evidence of our faith and a refining force in God’s plan.  In that, suffering is cause for praise and rejoicing and prompts us to trust in our future hope in Christ.  As we grow more Christ-like tribulations remind us of the guarantee of our divine inheritance.

So why do so many fervently seek to avoid suffering at all costs? I believe it’s because they don’t see the redeeming significance of it. But if a professing Christian can separate God from suffering he or she doesn’t really understand the gospel at all. Without God-ordained suffering there is no Calvary and therefore no salvation. Without suffering there is no good news. Paradoxically, suffering is the good news! Christ suffered and died under the weight of our sins so that we wouldn’t have to. His pain paved the road to our access to a holy God.

It makes perfect sense, then, that Christ followers should suffer sometimes as well.  Despite our aversion to it our suffering reflects the model of our loving Savior.  As we faithfully endure life’s tribulations we point to and give glory to the One who suffered for us.  A lost world then sees our perseverance in faith and is pointed to Calvary. Be reminded that the Apostles rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Are Christianity and suffering compatible? Oh yes, they are actually inseparable. Without suffering there is no hope, no forgiveness of sins, and no eternal fellowship with a transcendent God. God ordained the suffering of His only Son to provide us those divine gifts. And it’s quite possible that without our human suffering we would never recognize the glorious gift Christ gave us when He died.

I pray that we dash to the cross and behold Christ’s suffering—the suffering that has saved our souls. Then we will better grasp the reality of who Jesus is and will see His majesty. Then and then only can we embrace our own purifying suffering in Him and with Him as the experience that makes us most like Jesus. After all, emulating Christ is the goal for which we should most long. The question is, do we, like Paul, love Him so much that we desire “to know him … and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10)?

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